Review: The Wonders of Walt Disney World

Recap: Part guidebook, part behind-the-scenes and part history book, The Wonders of Walt Disney World will make you want to run to Disney immediately. Maybe that’s why I waited to read until now when my family and I finally feel comfortable returning to the parks amid COVID-19. We put a pause on the parks for a year-and-a-half, during which I had no interest in reading and falling deeper in love with the parks. But now I’m back! And this book got me back in the mood to park hop.

Author Aaron Goldberg is chock full of knowledge of the parks – their history of construction and plans and also of each individual ride. When I go to Disney, I often ride the rides for the thrills and the views and don’t pay so much attention to the story of the ride. But Goldberg details each ride’s story, reeling the reader in with information they may have overlooked (which is easy to do, since Disney is such a hotbed of overstimulation!). The book is broken down park-by-park with some history, a virtual walkthrough of the parks and an overview of each ride. He’s even got you covered with spotting hidden Mickeys! Each chapter ends with a bullet point overview of each ride and restaurant in that park, complete with TripAdvisor ratings and advice on whether to Fastpass+ the ride.

Analysis: My husband, the Disney aficionado, read the book before me, and at first I was hesitant to read it like an actual book. If it’s just a guidebook, I figured, don’t you just flip through it for the sections you want or need help with? “No, no, no” my husband told me, and he was right. Goldberg’s detailed descriptions and enthusiasm for the parks made me feel like I was actually there. He got me excited to return to the parks and not only try out some rides, restaurants and experiences we had yet to do (after I read the Magic Kingdom chapter, we visited MK and saw the Country Bear Jamboree for the first time and ate one of the famous cinnamon buns from Gaston’s Tavern!), but also to revisit the things I’ve done a million times and see them in a new way. For instance, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and were able to spot some hidden Mickeys and see sections I’d missed in the past. The book is less of a tell-all and more of a feel-it-all way of experiencing the park.

The book is updated annually and rightfully so. The parks are constantly changing with new rides and restaurants. Most recently, they’ve announced a huge change as the parks move away from Fastpass+ and toward Lightning Lanes with the Genie+ service. For that reason, my book was a little outdated. I read the 2018 edition. So if you’re planning a trip, I recommend reading the latest edition and highlighting so you know what and where you want to go.

Get The Wonders of Walt Disney in paperback for $13.89.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Recap: In a world full of screens, read a book. That’s just one part of the many layers of themes in the classic Ray Bradbury novel from 1953. In Bradbury’s future dystopian world of Fahrenheit, books are for burning and screens are for living. Guy Montag is a fireman, but in this world, firemen don’t put out fires. They start them. They burn down the homes of any person found to still have books inside. Books signify intellect and intellect signifies power. In an effort to tamp down that power, the society has decided to make books illegal. Each home instead has a parlor with four walls of screens.

When Montag meets a young, beautiful woman named Clarisse, she introduces him to the concept of learning, having an open mind, being different and following your own path. They meet regularly to talk and then she goes missing. It is around this time that Montag and his coworkers go to burn a woman’s house. She refuses to leave and instead opts to “go down with the ship,” if you will and die burning alive with her books. But not before Montag steals one of her books for himself.

And so sparks Montag setting off on his own individual path: a path that seeks out books, a path where he begins to question his wife, Mildred, and her friends, a path where he begins to take risks against his boss, Beatty. It’s a path that leads to a different kind of fire. Not that of an individual home, but that of the whole goddamn world.

Analysis: What can I write about this classic novel that hasn’t already been written? I can’t even seem to find the words to explain the story without fully giving every detail away. But here’s what you need to know: the dystopian “future” imagined by Ray Bradbury in 1953 is so eerily similar to our very real present, it’s frightening. Each house in the book has a parlor that consists of four walls of screens, and the characters feel like the people on the screens are their friends…TikTok anyone?

The world in which Montag lives is a weird where people are so consumed with consuming, so consumed with technology and screens that humans have forgotten how to feel and interact. When Montag reads a poem to his wife and her friends, one of them starts crying. But because she has never had such a visceral reaction to a poem (or any kind of literature), she doesn’t know what to make of it and instead the other women become angry with Montag. When they talk about their children, they mention how they “put up with them” when the children come home from school just three days a month. “You heave them into the ‘parlor’ and turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid…They’d just as soon kick as kiss me.”

As the story continues, it becomes clearer and clearer to both the reader and Montag that something has to change and Montag becomes that spark. Without even fully realizing it, he becomes set on saving books and changing people’s minds. He is pushed and manipulated by his boss, Beatty, who – when quoting literature – makes it clear he is not only literate, but extremely intelligent. Is he pushing Montag to start a movement because he knows it’s the right thing to do and he actually agrees with Montag about how dark society has become? Or is he just a villain, looking for an excuse to get under the skin of a rebel? It’s hard to know. Whatever his reasoning, his tactics are effective and Montag advances to a new future in a new city.

MVP: Beatty. He is awful. He is cruel. He is manipulative. But he knows exactly what he is doing. He is smart as hell. And I like to think that he’s secretly one of the good guys, one of the guys who agrees that society needs a huge overhaul. He may not have been courageous enough to start a revolution himself, but at least he pushed someone else to.

Get Fahrenheit 451 in paperback for $8.29.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The House of Mirth

Recap: Lily Bart is a beautiful girl, waiting for a train at Grand Central Station when she runs into her friend, Selden. They unexpectedly spend much of the afternoon together before she visits a friend’s country home. So sets up the on-and-off, back-and-forth relationship between Lily and Selden and the impulsivity of Lily Bart. Lily is 29 and has been available and looking for marriage for years now. She is decidedly undecided in her desire to marry for love versus marrying for wealth and status.

Much of her time revolves around wealth and status. She has gambled away much of her money, and she didn’t have much to start. On her trip to see friends in Bellomont, she fails to become engaged to the person her friends are trying to set her up with and she loses even more of her money via games of bridge. That’s when Gus, her friend’s husband, offers her financial help. He makes some investments on her behalf, offering her checks. Suddenly Lily is able to afford the flashier clothing and appear remarkably rich. But Gus also begins to expect a romantic relationship in return. Knowing she cannot betray her friend – and God forbid, what will society think of her? – Lily makes it a point to pay back Gus every cent he’s given her.

But the journey proves difficult, as her reputation continues to crumble, money is not flowing and her prospects for a husband remain limited.

Analysis: The House of Mirth is an example of what Edith Wharton does best, combining the themes of class, gender roles, reputation and wealth. In early 1900s New York where appearances are everything, Lily Bart is flailing. She is trying so hard that it’s too hard, and though beautiful and smart, she just can’t seem to get herself out of the hole. She is a true damsel in distress. The entire concept of the book – and of LIFE!!- I believe is summarized in this single exchange between Lily and Selden.

Selden pushed his hat back and took a side-glance at her. “Success — what is success? I shall be interested to have your definition.”

“Success?” She hesitated. “Why, to get as much as one can out of life, I suppose. It’s a relative quality, after all. Isn’t that your idea of it?”

“My idea of it? God forbid!” He sat up with sudden energy, resting his elbows on his knees and staring out upon the mellow fields. “My idea of success,” he said, “is personal freedom.”

“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

“From everything — from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit — that’s what I call success.”

To Lily, success is excess, holding onto everything. To Selden, success is letting go of it all. Lily’s grasping for more is her downfall, and just as she learns to live with less, the world has other plans.

MVP: Lily. She is not always the most likeable, but she keeps trying. And though she could not escape tragedy, she at least kept trying. She grows and evolves, despite the way things play out around her.

Buy The House of Mirth in paperback for $7.99.

Or on your Kindle for FREE.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul

Oh my, it feels like it’s been 100 years since I’ve read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. They were all the rage in the 90’s! And I read so many of them as a teenager. So as an expectant mother myself, when I received this book as a gift, I was excited to crack it open and step into the nostalgia for the series and read some great stories about pregnancy, delivery and children.

It mostly lived up to the hype! There were some great emotional stories that brought me near tears, cute cartoons and funny stories that I read out loud to my husband. The book includes a pretty wide variety of real-life stories from those with infertility issues, those who adopted, those who delivered early and those who delivered late. Considering the book is now more than 20 years old (!!), it did feel a bit dated in its diversity. If it were to be published in 2021 for instance, I would expect there to be more inclusive stories of gay couples or interracial couples having children. But I understand that in 2000, those kinds of stories were not likely to be included.

I also was surprised to find that there were no “celebrity” entries. At some point as I was reading, I remembered many of the Chicken Soup books of yesteryear promoted the stories by “famous” people on the front cover. It was always exciting when you’d come across an entry from Maya Angelou or Garry Marshall.

I also remember feeling the stories were better written back in the day and cut to the heart a little more. But that also may be because I was a teenager when I was reading those books and not as well versed in good writing. It’s hard to come across profoundly gut-wrenching writing when the stories are submitted by amateurs.

Truly though, that does not detract from the stories and content itself! Reading the book made me grateful for the relatively easy and healthy pregnancy I’ve had, hopeful – and a little nervous! – for delivery and excited to be a mother.

Get Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul in paperback for $15.59.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Movie vs. Book: To All the Boys: Always and Forever

In their senior year of high school, Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky are still together and have been going strong for more than a year now. There are no other people interfering in their relationship, but there is one thing that is: college. They have a plan to go away to school together. But as we all know, God laughs as we make our little plans.

In a shocking (or maybe not-so-shocking) twist of events, Lara Jean learns that despite her phenomenal grades and extra-curriculars, she is rejected by the very school that has accepted Peter and offered him a lacrosse scholarship. Initially they are devastated until they devise a new plan: Lara Jean will go to the school where she was accepted and then transfer to Peter’s school sophomore year. But Lara Jean continues to hear the voice of her mother and older sister in her head, telling her never to follow a boy to school. She is torn. And the more she learns about the school where she’s been accepted, the more she falls in love with it, especially after a whirlwind visit there solidifies things.

She keeps all of these feelings a secret from Peter, but he senses it. He separates himself from her, distancing just as prom approaches – as well as Lara Jean’s father’s second wedding – and everything erupts.

It’s a typical high school love story and it checks all the boxes. College! Prom! Senior trip! Wedding! And yet, those tropes work for a reason. Whether you’re currently in high school or an adult looking back at it, you know how big those moments feel as a teenager. Everything is at a monumental magnitude when you’re young – and especially young and in love. Those big moments lend themselves to big feelings, and it’s hard not to understand how both Peter and Lara Jean are feeling about everything going on.

The movie takes some liberties from the book to dramatize the situation even more. The book takes place in Virginia, so Peter is going to UVA, which rejected Lara Jean. Lara Jean plans instead to go to William & Mary. The schools are only a few hours away, which is truly doable even if they stayed long distance for the duration of college. But in the movie, they live in California. So Peter is going to Stanford, while Lara Jean is going to NYU on the other side of the country. Clearly the distance feels far more insurmountable.

The book also includes a section in which Lara Jean’s friend from the nursing home, Stormy, dies. At her funeral, she learns that John Ambrose (from the previous To All the Boys novel) is going to William & Mary, further complicating Peter’s feelings about Lara Jean going there. This is cut from the movie, which is probably for the best. It would be kind of a downer to have a funeral scene dropped in the middle of the movie, not to mention an unnecessary appearance from John Ambrose when Lara Jean clearly loves Peter.

Both movie and book end the same way, which is to say I WON’T SPOIL IT, but Lara Jean and Peter get to have it both ways, no matter how implausible it may seem. The only difference is that in the movie, Lara Jean and Peter ultimately have sex. They do not in the novel, but that never made sense to me. I know the novel is YA, and maybe the author was trying to be PC about it. Not to mention, Lara Jean has always been written as a character who is nervous to do things sexually. But not with Peter. And after more than a year of dating as they’re about to graduate, I don’t many high schoolers who wouldn’t have sex at that point.

Both the book and movie are truly satisfying and much more emotional, fun, full circle and impactful than the second book/movie in the series. What started out as a great premise in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is really tied up in a beautiful bow in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Get Always and Forever, Lara Jean in paperback for $5.99.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I Am One.

Recap: Ginger Zee is one of the most recognizable faces in TV news. As the chief meteorologist for ABC News, she appears daily on Good Morning America, travels the country to storm chase and deliver vitally important news about the weather and shares the details of her personal life on Instagram – complete with very adorable photos and videos of her two young sons.

But as she describes in her memoir, it took a while and a windy road for her to get this point. She worked in small markets, wore flip flops her first time on-air and wasn’t entirely sure how to write a script. She dated men who were horrible for her, broke off an engagement and suffered from verbal and emotional abuse. She tried to commit suicide and ultimately checked herself into a facility to get help. All of this was going on “behind the scenes” as she climbs the professional ladder, eventually making it to New York.

She is so delightfully adorable on-air and on social media that it’s hard for viewers to consider the many layers of anxiety and depression that she has managed over the years. And that is exactly why she wrote the book – to show the way things appear on the outside aren’t always the way they appear inside. This book is a thorough study on that, and an encouraging look at what can happen when you recognize the problems in your life and finally decide to get help.

Analysis: Ginger Zee’s story is powerful and necessary to be heard. Especially by young women – in any industry. But as a TV news person myself, I was also enraptured with her tales of job interviews, TV mishaps and ABC Network travels and assignments.

As much as I love her as a person and her anecdotes and found her story to be captivating, the writing itself could have used some work. The Natural Disaster title works perfectly as a representation of what she does for a living and how she describes herself, but the metaphor is used repeatedly throughout the book, to the point where I felt like I was being beat over the head with it. At times, I also found the book confusing in terms of time jumps. There were a few chapters that would go in chronological order and then she would write something like “But wait, let’s go back because this was also happening that entire time.” Maybe she was going for a little whiplash action in her writing just as she felt she was experiencing in her life, and just as one would experience in a real natural disaster. Either way, I sometimes got a little lost keeping track of what happened when because of those time jumps.

All that said, Ginger Zee has a voice and she’s using it to talk about big topics that MATTER. And there’s nothing more that I can do except respect and thank her for that.

Get Natural Disaster in paperback for $16.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Show vs. Book: Little Fires Everywhere

It’s 1997-1998 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s an upper middle class community that upholds the belief that anti-racism is equivalent to colorblindness. That’s where we meet the Richardsons, a white, wealthy family: Bill and Elena and their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. It’s also where we meet the Warrens, a lower-class family made up of a single mother and her daughter, Mia and Pearl. Elena rents her rental home to Mia and Pearl. That’s how Pearl meets Mood. The two are the same age and quickly become good friends.

The two families begin to intertwine as Mia starts working as a housekeeper for the Richardsons to make a little extra cash and keep her eye on Pearl, who is wooed by the wealth and status of the Richardsons and spends much of her time at their home. As Pearl warms up to Elena, badly wanting that life, so too does Izzy warm up to Mia. Izzy is the black sheep of the Richardson family, the one the others don’t seem to understand. She comes to love Mia and her life and career as an artist and begins to spend time with her as an apprentice.

Another side job of Mia’s is a waitressing job at a Chinese restaurant, where she becomes friendly with her co-worker Bebe Chow. Bebe gave up her baby daughter when she was an infant and left her outside a firehouse. Mia later puts two-and-two together and discovers that Bebe’s daughter has since been adopted by friends of the Richardsons. The intertwining of the Richardsons and Warrens becomes mangled as Mia helps Bebe in a legal battle to win her daughter back from Elena’s good friend. And there is just as much intermingling and mangling happening between Pearl and the Richardson brood.

There are figurative fires sparking everywhere throughout the book, in Mia’s backstory, in Lexie’s current story and so on and so on. They all erupt in a literal fire engulfing the Richardsons’ home, which is used as a framing device bookending the story.

The show takes the bones of the book and portrays all this excellently onscreen with the talent of Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren. (Not to mention the phenomenal kids who play the teenaged children.) But the show makes some serious changes, and I actually think most are for the better.

The book is not bad. In fact, it’s freaking great. Its themes around race are centered on Bebe Chow and how she is treated in the justice system as a poor Asian woman compared to the rich, white people. The TV series on Hulu, however, takes race a huge step further by making the Warrens black. Mia and Pearl are never explicitly said to be black in the novel. The mention of Pearl’s frizzy hair is as close as the author gets. By making them black, many more stories lines explicitly touch on race in the series, broadening the themes of the novel beyond wealth and socioeconomic status. The series came out a few months before the death of George Floyd, so it’s impossible to have known how much the series would resonate now, in retrospect, but it certainly does.

In terms of plot, the series adds a lot more backstory for Elena and a few more subplots between the children – which also touch on race. But the biggest change the series makes is the way it unravels all of the secrets the characters are keeping: about abortions, lovers, postpartum depression, childbearing, finances. In the book, many of the secrets remain just that: secrets. While a handful of characters escape Shaker Heights at the end of the novel, so many things are left undiscussed and unaddressed. We, the readers, are left to assume whether or not those conversations ever happen. In the TV series, however, no one can keep their mouth shut! The secrets not only come out but are hurled at other characters like giant fireballs across a room, only building the deep-seeded rage between several people and leading to even more outlandish actions.

When it comes to the massive, literal fire at the end (and technically beginning) of the story, it’s clear in the series that there is a handful of people involved in setting it. It takes the entire series to finally bond these characters together, and when they comes together in a spiteful act of arsonistic rage, it is ridiculously satisfying in a way that the ending of the book isn’t.

Get Little Fires Everywhere in paperback for $8.67.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

1 Comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book

Movie vs. Book: To All the Boys: P.S.: I Still Love You

The second book in this cute rom com chick lit YA series picks up right where the first left off. Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky have broken up, after a ski trip make-out session spreads rumors about them having done more sexually and Peter doesn’t deny it. It’s been a sad, lonely winter break for Lara Jean. But it’s not long before she and Peter decide to move forward. Peter stands up for Lara Jean regarding the video of them in the hot tub that’s now spreading on social media, making Lara Jean fall even harder for Peter.

But Genevieve. There’s always a Genevieve factor when it comes to Lara Jean and Peter. Lara Jean is convinced Gen is the one who took the video and spread it on social media. Then she and Chris start to see Gen and Peter continuing to spend time together, his arms always wrapped around her. When Lara Jean confronts Peter, he denies anything is going on and simply tells her Gen is dealing with family stuff.

As this is all happening, Lara Jean receives a letter…from John Ambrose McClaren! He was the only other person who received one of Lara Jean’s love letters who she never heard back from, until now. The strike up a pen pal relationship. Then as Lara Jean starts to volunteer at a senior living community and befriends an elderly woman named Stormy, she learns that John Ambrose is Stormy’s grandson. That does nothing but lead to Lara Jean and John Ambrose spending more time together and further confusing Lara Jean about her feelings.

The Netflix movie adaptation of the book automatically starts very differently. After all, the first movie took some of the content from the second book so it could wrap up the hot tub video fiasco in a neat little bow at the end. So all of that drama from the beginning of P.S. I Still Love You, the novel, is eliminated from the movie. It works because the movie is then able to spend much more time on the Lara Jean/John Ambrose/Peter/Genevieve situation.

And yet somehow the slow burn buildup of Lara Jean and John Ambrose’s relationship is more richly explored in the book, so the impact and payoff at the end are much more satisfying. The movie makes it feel like John Ambrose was never really a consideration for Lara Jean, while in the book he very much was.

The movie also took out the tidbit of John Ambrose being Stormy’s grandson. Instead he was a fellow volunteer at the home, and I like this better because a) it allowed for Lara Jean and John Ambrose to spend time together in a way that made sense and b) it also allowed for further diversity casting.

Ultimately the biggest difference may have come at the end. The way Lara Jean learns what Genevieve is going through with her family is completely different from the book, and it’s also handled differently. Both the book and movie have the two girls talking about the situation, ultimately leading to Lara Jean feeling confident in her decision about which boy she wants to date. But in the book, Gen’s family crisis a lot darker, and the conversation between the girls is far more confrontational. The movie cut out some of the risque factor of Gen’s home life, and portrayed a much more emotionally healthy conversation between her and Lara Jean. But I would argue that 16-year-old girls are not that emotionally healthy, and can be very hormonal and angsty. So the book seems to have a more realistic take on this. The book’s version of this conversation also speaks to another very sad, but common teenage rite of passage: breaking up with friends.

When it comes to this one, I loved both the book and movie. The book was better plotted, paced and explored.. But no matter the changes, you can’t help but fall in love with Lana Condor, Noel Centineo and Jordan Fisher on screen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: Bhagavad Gita

Recap: It’s one of the most ancient and revered religious texts, and yet I had never heard of it until I started my 500-hour yoga teacher training course. Some of the other trainees were familiar with it from college classes, etc. But somehow it had been overlooked in my literary education, and it’s a shame because Gita is a GEM.

The book is really a long poem, detailing a journey a la The Iliad or The Odyssey. It tells the story of a man, Arjuna, about to lead his men in battle. Right before it all goes down, however, Arjuna has a moment of internal crisis. Is fighting and winning this battle everything he stands for it or does it stand for everything he’s against? Are violence, death, destruction and power really the most important things to him? With these questions, he turns to the man driving his chariot, Krishna. But Krishna isn’t just some lowly chariot driver. He’s actually God — the universe/the almighty force/whatever synonym you want to use — reincarnate.

The rest of the tale is Krishna explaining to Arjuna the meaning of life and the best ways to live that life. These are the questions — and answers — all humans have and seek. These are the crises of mankind, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years. So what does Arjuna do in the end? Does he fight? Does he back down in an effort to emulate a life of nonviolence? The beauty of Gita is that’s almost not even the point.

Analysis: There are many interpretations, translations and iterations of Bhagavad Gita that have been written over the years. (Just how many years, no one really knows. It’s estimated the story was originally written as early as the fifth century B.C.E. or as late as the first century C.E.) I just so happened to pick up a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I’m glad I did. Mitchell also translated Tao Te Chang: A New English Version so he clearly has an affinity for this type of thing.

The beauty of this version is his introduction that lays out the story. It’s incredibly helpful so have this classic poem explained in layman’s terms so you’re not flying blind as you read. Otherwise, I could see it being very possible to overlook the God-ness of Krishna and the deeper interpretations of what he’s saying. This translation also includes an Appendix written by Ghandi!

Please take my use of “God” and “religious text” with a grain of salt. This is not the Bible. It is not forcing religion upon anyone. It’s explaining human thinking. You can replace “God” with other words like “the universe,” “a powerful force,” “destiny,” “the divine,” or even just “ME.” Because part of the point of the text is that unlike what many Judeo-Christian religions preach about there being an almighty God to whom we should pray and “be good” for, Gita emphasizes a more Western philosophy that God exists in all of us. There is no big man in the sky that we need to proclaim our love to. We need to recognize there is a godliness within each being on the planet, ourselves included, and proclaim our love to everyone – even ourselves. Take this section said by Krishna to Arjuna, for example:

I am the beginning and the end,

origin and dissolution,

refuge, home, true lover,

womb and imperishable seed.

I am the heat of the sun,

I hold back the rain and release it;

I am death and the deathless,

and all that is or is not.

The moment you replace each “I” with “you,” you recognize the universality of the writing. We are all everything. That’s the thing to understand about the Gita. It’s not just about a man’s dilemma on the battlefield. It’s about all people’s internal dilemma in the world. Eye-opening, mind-blowing and highly recommended.

Get Bhagavad Gita in paperback for $13.49.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Lara’s Top Picks of 2020

I’m going to be completely honest with you. This year was an absolute crap year for me when it came to reading. I recognize a global pandemic may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit and read a ton, and I’m well aware that many people did that. However, I’m an essential worker and was not home nearly as much as some others this year, and I also felt so completely drained by work and the day-to-day reality of the state of the world that when I was home, I found myself wanting to do nothing more than veg out on the couch watching Netflix. I simply felt I had no more brainpower to expend on reading.

That said, I read far fewer books than I normally do in a year and kept this list a little shorter for that reason.

Another thing. Here’s the disclaimer I include every year. This is not a list of my top picks of books that were published this year (although some were). For that kind of list, I recommend the NYTimes 100 Notable Books of 2020 list. This is a list of my top picks of books I personally read in 2020, regardless of what year they were published. Below that is a complete list of the books I read this year. Enjoy!

8. The Sweeney Sisters – This fictional tale of three wealthy sisters grappling with the death of their famous father and what to do with his legacy was a perfect summer beach read. Light, easy, romantic, a little predictable and still a lot of fun.

7. Living the Sutras – Part yoga textbook and part journal guide, this book breaks down the ancient yoga sutras, detailing the theory and practice of yoga. Each of the 195 sutras go much deeper than “triangle pose!” and in this book, each is accompanied with a little writing prompt, allowing the reader to also go deep and learn about themselves while reading.

6. The Promise of a Pencil – Part memoir/part self-help, Adam Braun shares how he built an incredibly successful charitable organization from the ground up. In doing so, he also shares how he learned to let go of the corporate life he was conditioned to desire, how to be a better leader and human and the importance of leaning into your passion for the betterment of the future.

5. Unbearable Lightness – I never really cared or knew much about Portia de Rossi until I read this book, and now I have incredible respect for her. Her memoir about her battle with an extreme eating disorder and depression is dark, honest, real and compelling. And her ability to write far exceeded my expectations.

4. Universe of Two – This WWII-era historical fiction novel has nothing to do with battle and nothing to do with the Holocaust. What a gift. Instead it centers on the Manhattan Project: one of the engineers involved and the women he was in love with who lived across the country. It’s romantic, educational, beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down.

3. Waiting for the Punch – If you’re a fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, you will love this book. And if you’re not, but have always wondered what the fuss is all about, this book is your perfect way in. The book is divided into themes, and each one includes transcriptions of some of his best, funniest and saddest celebrity interviews. I may have cried more reading this book this year than any other. It is chock full of life lessons and earns its own credit separately from the podcast.

2. Becoming – What more can I say about Michelle Obama’s famous, bestselling memoir that hasn’t already been said? It is superb. It is honest, feminist, political without being too political, uplifting and inspiring. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, and honestly, why have you?

  1. Untamed – Glennon Doyle deserves every bit of praise she received this year for this book. The bestseller struck a serious chord with most of America as Doyle details her honest descriptions of falling in love, parenting, feminism, politics, charity and the importance of being true to yourself and your passions and following through with everyone you want despite the “consequences.” She calls herself on her bullshit. And you’ll read this, crying, calling yourself on yours.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

The Magnanimous Heart – Narayan Helen Liebenson

The Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun

Unbearable Lightness – Portia de Rossi

Okay Fine Whatever – Courtenay Hameister

40 Days to Personal Revolution – Baron Baptiste

The Sweeney Sisters – Lian Dolan

Universe of Two – Stephen P. Kiernan

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Waiting for the Punch – Marc Maron

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream – Doris Kearns Goodwin

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews